Saturday, August 22, 2009

Okay, That's Not An Ending

I can readily admit that the chances that someone has read Anne of Green Gables are dramatically increased by being Canadian and, you know, female. However, I'm going to reference it anyway.

About midway through the book (and, I promise this is in no way pivotal to the plot, so it's not a spoiler), Anne and her friends form a writing club. Anne is very good, and her friends do okay, though they all have their faults. Each girl's writing had a unique 'flaw.' The one that I best remember was that of Diana Berry, Anne's best friend. Diana was forever having new characters appear in her stories, and she never knew what to do with them after a while, so she just killed them all off.

I remember this now, because it seems to me that some people cannot resist writing the ending where they kill off every character. I've seen it at the end of more than a few critically acclaimed movies (I won't name names, because that would be unfair spoiling) and everyone left the movie feeling a bit unsatisfied.

Why do I take issue with this? It is not an ending.

True, at that point, the story has come to an end. However, just because the writer stopped writing -- and yes, if you've offed your entire cast of characters, you will have to stop writing -- that doesn't mean that anything has actually been ended. Nothing got accomplished.

If the books ends with all of the characters dead and none of the plot resolved, it never "finished" as things were. It just stopped. And that's just annoying. Think about it from the perspective of the reader. The reader doesn't know what came of the plot arcs the character was involved in at the point of their demise. The reader has no sense that the events of the plot mattered since there's no one alive to be impacted by what occurred. Why should they have cared about any of this? You'll leave the reader with the feeling that they've wasted their time.

The reader should never feel like they've wasted their time. If you leave the reader feeling as if you've stolen 15+ hours of his or her life, then they won't recommend your books to anyone else -- except to maybe, you know, people they hate -- and they won't pick up any of your other writing. That's bad.

So, I guess the moral of the story is, find something to do with the characters other than bumping them off. After all, just because you've got them off the stage, doesn't mean the audience has forgotten about them or what they were doing before their tragic and untimely demise.

All characters deserve a chance at a full and realistic life. Sure, some characters must die. And, if they must die, by all means, kill them. I'm not advocating peace and long life for all characters here. I'm just saying, they don't all have to die. Not during the book, at any rate.

Does this sort of ending bug you, or is that just me? Do you sometimes off characters when you don't know what to do with them anymore? What do you do with characters who like to hang around when you're done with them?


  1. I hate endings like that. You are so right. It's not really an ending. I have offed a couple of characters, but it is part of the conflict, not a resolution to the conflict.

  2. LW - Some characters do have to die. In my shelved project, one of my favorite characters dies, because that's what he would do in that situation. And one bad guy dies, because he deserves it. But those were necessary to the story, not just a means for getting rid of them.